- (Photo: Reuters/Omar Sobhani)
Afghan officials have called for the investigation into the torture of 15-year-old Sahar Gul, who was held captive by her in-laws. President Hamid Karzai and human rights organizations are determined to bring her perpetrators to justice.
Her brother sold Gul, 15, for $5,000 to a 30-year-old man, officials say. That’s when her troubles began. In her first interview with media, Gul said, “For several months I was locked up in toilet by my in-laws and particularly my mother-in-law. I was denied food and water. I was tortured and beaten.”
Reports also show that Gul is suffering from broken fingers, having her nails ripped out, scars, burns and bruises. She is currently being treated for physical and psychological trauma at a hospital in India.
According to Rahima Zarifi, head of women’s affairs in Bahlan, “She was married seven months ago and was originally from Badakhshan province. Her in-laws tried to force her into prostitution to earn money.”
Gul refused, and her in-laws locked her away and tortured the girl. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been arrested, but Gul’s husband was able to flee before authorities intervened.
Jawid Basharat, Baghlan police spokesman told the media, “After police found out about the small girl, Sahar Gul, they took action and found her in the basement of the house in very bad condition.”
Gul’s story has reached the ears of the Afghan government. Dr. Suraya Dalil was one of the first to examine Gul, and stated: “This is one of the worst cases of violence against Afghan women. She is still a child, below the legal age of marriage. It’s a tragic and heartbreaking story for Afghanistan.”
President Hamid Karzai has also spoken out against the violence, saying that it “must be seriously investigated.” Karzai also intervened on behalf of a young woman known as Gulnaz, who was raped by her cousin’s husband. Gulnaz was imprisoned for adultery, which is considered a moral (ethics) charge, even though she was the victim of rape. Under certain Afghan laws, rape is deemed a consensual act between adults.
Human Rights Organizations around the world brought attention to Gulnaz’s story with the hope of securing her freedom. Gulnaz was initially offered release on the condition that she marry her rapist. Eventually, though, Karzi intervened and guaranteed her release with no conditions.
Gulnaz’s story provided a new opportunity for Afghan women, who had never been given the opportunity to go free or remain in the “safety” of prison. Even though some women are set free, they still face grave danger at the hands of their attackers or even their own families. Gulnaz chose to be released and was taken to a secure location known only by her lawyer.
In a recent update, though, Gulnaz told reporters that she would consider marrying her rapist if his family was willing to pay hers, and if he would provide a wife for her brother. Analysts see Gulnaz’s actions as a desperate attempt to ensure security and well-being for her own family.
Violence against women has still continued in the aftermath of the fall of the Taliban. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported a total of 2,700 acts of violence against women in 2009, and that number grew in 2010.
The United Nations issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2009, which called for a cessation of any and all physical and psychological abuse. Among other things, the declaration states: “Concerned that some groups of women, such as women belonging to minority groups, indigenous women…women living in rural or remote communities…[the U.N.] urges that every effort be made so that it becomes generally known and respected.”
The declaration, however, points out that there has been a general lack of follow-through by individual states. According to reports, prosecutors have only sought due process on 26 percent of cases.